No charges filed in death of trapped cat; Sandy Pines reviews policy
No criminal charges will be sought after a cat was found frozen to death in a live trap at Sandy Pines Recreational Community last month.
A member of Sandy Pines spotted the cat Jan. 25, and her friend called the authorities.
With no evidence and no witnesses to corroborate any individual setting the trap, the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office declined to press charges against any of the park rangers and, on Feb. 6, the county prosecutor’s office agreed.
Responding to that decision, Sandy Pines administration released a statement Feb. 9 saying, “We deeply regret that an animal lost its life, was discovered in this nature and resulted in the disturbing visual social media representation of this event. Our hearts go out to all who were affected by news of this story.
“Although we cannot change the past, we can shape the future. We are using this situation to evaluate our current systems and protocol. All live traps have been removed until our review is complete and potential revisions are made to current policies.”
The campground member posted the picture of the cat to Facebook with the claim that it had frozen to death and that park staff do not check the traps often enough.
Mel Brummel has been the director of security at Sandy Pines since October and said the park had been dealing with a feral cat population.
“Because of the rural environment, a lot of cats are dropped off in that area and not cared for,” Brummel said. “That’s why we’ve had a problem with them, and we catch and bring them to the animal shelter.”
The park’s official response denied the allegations.
An animal control officer recovered the trap and animal; he found no other animals in his inspection of all of the other traps in the park.
Campground administration said they and Brummel promptly worked with the sheriff’s office and animal control providing policies, patrol logs, gate logs and video surveillance footage to aid in the investigation.
The Sandy Pines press release said, “During the investigation we were advised by legal counsel not to publicly comment, answer questions or speculate, as such information could adversely affect the investigation. It was difficult to hold back information due to the highly sensitive nature of the issue, as many had legitimate questions.
Sandy Pines, at 2745 136th Ave., near Hopkins, sits on 800 acres near Monterey Lake and has campsites, an 18-hole golf course, swimming and a variety of other vacation activities.
The police report details sheriff’s Capt. Chris Kuhn’s investigation, including a variety of interviews with park members and Sandy Pines staff.
In the report, Brummel told police he’d seen a cat in the trap on Jan. 20, and, when the animal shelter said it could not accept it, had released it in the wild.
The report does say there is a security camera that shows the dumpster near where the trap was found, but that “there is a large uncovered area which would easily allow someone to walk into the frame, behind the dumpster, and handle the trap or a cat... without being seen by the camera.”
Because of that, the police did not review a month’s worth of footage, though Sandy Pines offered the video footage.
Kuhn said Tuesday, “Although every effort was made to identify a particular responsible person, the investigation was unable to identify one person solely responsible for not tending to or checking the trap in an appropriate time frame.”
The Sandy Pines press release said, “The Allegan County Prosecutor reported the investigation found no basis for any charges to be brought against Sandy Pines or any specific employee due to negligence, protocol or policies.”
The Allegan County News reached out to the Facebook account that posted the pictures but has heard no response.
Kuhn said he hopes Sandy Pines adjusts its informal policy of how it sets and monitors live traps, and that he made numerous comments about that to the camp’s administration and Brummel.
“Obviously, there’s a problem with their procedure,” Kuhn said. “What they’re doing isn’t good enough.”
The Sandy Pines statement said, “As per many public suggestions, we are currently reaching out to local organizations that utilize Trap, Neuter & Return management practices.
“On Thursday, Feb. 8, we met with Carol Manos, the Founder & Director of Carol’s Ferals, a Grand Rapids-based organization that is dedicated to ending feline overpopulation in west Michigan through community education and empowerment.
“Carol presented a proposal to manage all of the park’s animal control efforts utilizing TNR practices on our feral cat population. We see the proposal as a balanced solution to protect the safety and wellbeing of our members while also managing the animal population in a humane manner.
“We are currently assessing the proposal and will post updates to our animal control policies as they are available on our website at www.SandyPines.com/AnimalControlPolicies.”
Sandy Pines directed requests for more information to its public safety office at (616) 896-9006 or Security@SandyPines.com.
The Sandy Pines statement also said, “Although we’d love to share all the information we know about the situation, please understand that confidentially prevents us from sharing patrol logs, gate logs, video surveillance footage and anything that contains personal and/or private information.
“We apologize to all who were emotionally affected by this event and thank those who have offered positive feedback and suggestions on TNR procedures and policies. We have heard your concerns and are carefully considering your suggestions, while assuring that these matters are taken to heart for the betterment of our community.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with the contents of the Sandy Pines statement released Friday, Feb. 9.
Contact Ryan Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 673-5534.